The hamstrings are one of the biggest muscle groups in your body, yet they frequently are overshadowed by the quadriceps and overlooked. This is unfortunate because they arguably more important than the quads with regards to athletics, and forgetting to work out your hamstring can lead to chronic injury.
The hamstrings are the antagonist muscle group to the quadriceps, meaning the two groups work together through opposite movements. The quads, located on the front of the thigh, extend (straighten) the knee and help in flexion (bending) at the hip, while the hamstrings, located on the back of the upper leg, flexes the knee and extends/hyperextends the hip. There are three muscles that make up the hamstring group: semitendinosus, semimembranosus, and biceps femoris, which is comprised of a long and short head. In order for a muscle to produce movement in more than one joint, that muscle must cross all of the joints involved and the semitendinosus, semimembranosus, and the biceps femoris long head do just that, all connecting to the pelvis and extending down to attach below the knee.
So Why Are The Hamstrings So Great?
- The hamstrings are key to acceleration and deceleration, which means they’re strength is essential to athletes who need bursts of speed, abrupt stops and need to change direction quickly.
- The hamstrings help transfer power from the knee joint to the hip joint.
- The hamstrings and glutes are the two main sprinting muscles, and are extremely important to forward propulsion at maximal running speed.
- The hamstrings help stabilize the structurally unsound knee joint and help prevent injuries to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).
- The hamstrings help rotate the leg medially and laterally during knee flexion.
- Strength in the hamstrings, glutes and lower back are essential to performing weight lifting exercises like the clean, snatch, and dead lift.
- Plus a sleek, strong set of hamstrings looks great! It completes the leg by balancing out the notoriously larger quadriceps.
Why Is It So Important To Strengthen The Hamstrings?
Aside from the obvious importance the hamstrings have in sport and athletics (running, deceleration, changing direction), the hamstrings are commonly susceptible to injury. The reason that the hamstrings are so easily injured is because they are so overlooked in the gym. As was previously explained, the hamstrings and quadriceps are antagonist muscle groups and perform opposite movements over the knee and hip joints.
Strengthening The Hamstrings
The hamstrings are primarily made up of fast twitch muscle fibers, which means they are apt for speed/power training and are best trained under heavy loads. There are many methods of strengthening your hamstrings which make use of various pieces of equipment. There are certainly specialty machines designed to work your hamstrings, but we’re going to stay away from outlining these exercises, and attempt to keep it simple as not all gyms will have specialty hamstring equipment.
Equipment: Box or bench to step up on, weights (optional)
Execution: Place one foot in a stable position on top of the box or bench. Step straight up onto the box/bench. The key to targeting the hamstring in this exercise is to pull your body up with the leg on top of the box instead of pushing off of the leg on the ground. Make sure to alternate legs.
Hamstring Curls Equipment: Swiss Ball/Exercise Ball
Execution: Your gym may have a hamstring curl machine, but if it doesn’t you can perform this exercise with an exercise ball. Lay down on floor, on your back with your arms resting along your body. Place heels on top of ball with legs slightly bent. Press your heels into the ball and lift your hips off the ground. When stable (no shaking), pull your heels towards your body, rolling the ball towards you. The key to this exercise is to keep your hips up high while pulling the ball towards you; don’t let your hips drop.
Glute/Ham Raises A.K.A Nordic Hamstring Curls
Equipment: You may be lucky to have a glute/ham raise machine in your gym, but if not, this exercise can be replicated very easily. All you need is something to kneel on (a mat or Bosu Ball), and something to hook your feet under.
Execution: Kneel down, hooking your feet under something stable behind you (or have a partner hold them down). Allow your body to fall forward, resisting the motion with your hamstrings, and ending the downward motion in the knee-pushup position. Then assist the movement back to the starting position by pushing with your arms, and pulling the rest of the way up with your hamstrings. When you get really good at this you may be able to do the entire motion without the help of your arms.
We wish you all the best in scuspting those long, lean, sexy hamstrings!